Sex and the City (of Rome)
By Kate Quinn, author of Daughters of Rome
I'll admit to a certain guilty pleasure of mine right off the bat: Sex and the City. Oh, I mocked it, but I still swooned over the clothes, the humor, the girltalk. And I've had a chance to catch up on SATC now that my second historical fiction novel Daughters of Rome is released. Which is why I've started to think of Daughters of Rome, set during the Year of Four Emperors, as “Sex and the City of Rome.” I have to admit, it didn't strike me at the time when I was writing it, but there are certain similarities . . .
“Sex and the City” gives us four girls sticking together through love affairs, marriages, heartache, and brunch. Daughters of Rome gives us four girls sticking together through love affairs, marriages, heartache, and civil war. (Not that those SATC brunches didn't have a certain amount of civil war lobbied over the Bloody Marys from time to time.)
SATC had Carrie Bradshaw to narrate the chaos, a writer with a nice line in cynical voiceovers and an enormous appetite for stilettos (the higher the better). For DoR there is Marcella, a historian with a nice line in cynical one-liners and an enormous appetite for politics (the bloodier the better).
The Heroine's Posse
Carrie's three best gal-pals include a very proper brunette, a very sexy blond, and a very tomboyish redhead. Marcella has an older sister and two cousins: a very proper brunette, a very sexy redhead, and a very tomboyish blonde.
SATC popularized “Carrie” necklaces, Prada gowns, and Manolo Blahnik stilettos. DoR might end up popularizing ruby necklaces, goddess gowns, and gladiator sandals. (For women who are not a size zero! Roman fashion went for a curvier, softer silhouette, which frankly the skinny gals of SATC could have used. I adore Sarah Jessica Parker, but the woman needs a few cheeseburgers.)
The Romantic Escapades
Carrie and the girls managed, over many seasons and two movies, to rack up four marriages, one divorce, three children, and countless lovers. I'm sorry, but Marcella and her posse have them beat with eleven marriages, six divorces, eight children, and countless lovers. Those racy Romans . . .
SATC had one cute guy after another: suave Mr. Big, nice-guy Steve, sweetheart Harry, sexy Smith . . . to name but a few. DoR offers one Emperor after another: cranky Emperor Galba, metrosexual Emperor Otho, sports-fan Emperor Galba, nice-guy Emperor Vespasian . . . to name but a few.
Carrie & Co. collectively faced pregnancy, divorce, abortion, adultery, and cancer. Plus trying to afford Louboutins during a recession. Marcella & Co. face pregnancy, divorce, abortion, adultery, and widowhood. Plus trying to stay alive when your political leaders are massacring each other literally on your doorstep every three months or so. Warring emperors aside, I guess the problems women face haven't changed so much over the millennia.
Perhaps that is the real reason Daughters of Rome is reminiscent of “Sex and the City,” all jokes aside. In the end, women face many of the same problems whether they happen to live in modern day New York or first century Rome. A girl who has gone through a divorce feels just as lousy about it whether the process involved a team of expensive lawyers (modern day), or just moving out of the house (ancient Rome). Both Roman women and modern women faced the agonizing choice of “adoption, abortion, or single motherhood?” when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. A passionate affair with the wrong man is just as confusing and heartbreaking whether the man in question is a married stockbroker with commitment issues, or (gasp) a slave.
What I'd love to see is Carrie and her friends meet up for brunch with Marcella and hers. Let's assume the English-to-Latin translation is seamless, and plenty of drinks are provided. After a certain awkward period where the Roman girls splutter over their very first taste of a Cosmopolitan, and the modern girls are introduced to Roman wine so strong it can be lit on fire with a match, I see this discussion going well. Marcella would be fascinated by Carrie's columnist gig - “Women get paid for writing here? I'm never going back!” Charlotte and her Roman counterpart Cornelia would bond instantly over the years they both spent yearning for babies; Charlotte pats Cornelia's hand a lot and assures her that it will happen someday, just you wait. Miranda and her tomboy equivalent Diana will both be talking at once, Miranda trying to explain baseball and Diana trying to explain chariot racing. And Roman party girl Lollia will be swapping hair-raising sex stories with Samantha: “A pearl thong? That's nothing; I wore sapphire nipple caps once. Never again, you wouldn't believe the chafing. Now tell me more about these things called vibrators . . .”
“Sex and the City of Rome” - now that would be a show worth seeing. HBO, if you're out there, Daughters of Rome has not yet been optioned for film . . .
Thanks for having me to the Historical Fiction Connection! It’s been a pleasure.
|Daughters of Rome, April 5, 2011|
Mistress of Rome, written when she was a freshman in college.
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